The Young Feel Defeated and Trapped - And So Do Their Parents
Having been bumped off my usual perch in G2, here I am among the grown-ups! Finally. This week this paper's G2 section has been handed over to Generation Y. Always down with the youth, I had never heard of Generation Y, but then I am not good with numbers. Indeed, I hail from before the actual alphabet, or as the dapper Richard Hell put it, "I belong to the blank generation. I can take it or leave it each time."
So now that I see Gen Y are basically those folk born between 1980 and 2000, that new-fandangled thrupenny pound has dropped. I am their mum! Not all of them, obviously, I am not a fly. But this is my children's generation. The fledgings have fledged.
So it turns out I have hung with these people for nearly 30 years. And their "concerns" – love, sex, work, paying the bills – are not so different from mine. They are just better at the technology and often more sensible than me.
This is not in any way to minimise how difficult things are for the generation that will be poorer than their parents, something that I have often written about because it feels unprecedented. It would be lovely to be able to say, "Well, I'm OK, but sod them". But no mother is an island.
Something has been going wrong for ages, while I was cajoling my kids to jump through educational hoops that were already bent out of shape. I watched them revise information that they had not yet absorbed so their exhausted teachers could hit arbitrary targets. I encouraged them to go to college thinking it would lead to semi-decent jobs, not endless three-month contracts and two-hour shifts in pubs where most of the charming people behind the bar have MAs. I watched them being ripped off by letting agencies who did not maintain basic standards, never mind heat and sound insulation.
I know that now they are in their twenties, they can't afford to have the heating on a lot, never mind think about having kids themselves in such an insecure climate.
My children only occasionally express their anger to me. I didn't have it easy, unless you call a grant and squatting in a homeless person's unit easy. But I had much more independence than them, the kind that now can only come with a hefty inheritance.
One of my daughters did stage a kind of protest by taking against all recycling. "There is no bloody point. We are all going to die. YOU have destroyed the planet." Even though I have given it my best shot, that's not quite true.
But I expected far more anger from their generation. I still do.
Instead, poverty and the everyday grinding-down of expectation does not produce radicalism but low-level depression. The endless revamping of CVs and keeping up appearances for interviews takes its toll. They are paying for the sins not of their own fathers but the fathers of another class. Russell Brand's call to arms appealed to me and to my 13-year-old. Not so much to my twentysomethings.
Although recreational sex is at least affordable, what is surprising is Generation Y's utter conventionality. Apart from the small grouping who wear their polyamory as a passive-aggressive badge of honour, most of them want to meet "the one", then have a showy/quirky wedding with the one, and all the rest. For all the porn, all the surveillance, romance remains buoyant among all the digital options of onanism. Young people want connection. And connection is what needs to be made. No generation lives by itself. This one literally can't afford to.
My generation can't either, as our pensions have gone to pot. The nest-eggs of property will have to be used to help out our children. Class imbalance will build for those who don't have any chance of that.
So we actually are all in this together. Young people cannot get the jobs they want because older people dare not give them up. Believe me, we would if we could. Young adults now coming back to live with their parents may feel defeated and trapped. Guess what? So do many parents. It wasn't meant to be this way. For the young or for us. It's the economy, stupid.
Generation Y are not just people who want to get into high-paid professions, it is also the generation who got their limbs blown off in Helmand. It is a generation of carers in waiting. It is the generation of Occupy and hip young Tories. Yet the life chances of anyone born after 1980 will have been determined largely by who they were born to. Contacts and internships and sailing into careers only happens to those already at the top. This is a problem for all of us.
Those Access All Area passes are for the precious few. Nonetheless, there are some openings here and internationally, and Gen Y can batter down some of the walls – virtually and actually – but not on its own.
Every generation is special to itself, and I hope this one remains special too. If it takes the odds stacked against it and spreads the spoils of its battles and dreams and connects beyond itself, then that dreadful phrase "start-up" may come to actually mean something real.